The Fit is go!

That is, our two-for-one even trade on a new 2009 Honda Fit is (a) go! We love our orange 2008 Fit (which we’ve only had for about 8 months), but our 2000 Civic has been sitting in the garage untouched for about three months now. Clearly, despite juggling transportation for SLP’s job, kids in kindergarten and Montessori school, and my own freelance work, we are still a one-car family. Convenient access to the light rail and my own scheduling flexibility (and willingness to shuttle people around) definitely help in that regard.

So, with winter fast approaching and a single-car garage, we’ve decided it’s time for the Civic to go. It has served us well for nearly nine years, despite nearly meeting its maker (which the deer did, alas) about 4 years ago. But now, what can I say? We’ve moved on.

As I said, we love the Fit. So when I made the mental leap that a possible way to rid ourselves of the Civic would be to try to get an even trade of both cars for a new one, there was no doubt that the new one would also be a Fit. Honda’s made a few of our requested improvements (not that we actually requested them, but they must have read our minds) to the standard package this year, including a USB iPod interface, a passenger-side vanity mirror, and ten — count ’em, ten — drink holders. You wouldn’t think a car that seats five would need that many drink holders, but I can tell you, when you’ve got two kids in the car, the drinks-per-person ratio is higher than you might expect.

I checked Kelley Blue Book for the trade-in values on our cars, and determined that we should be able to pull off an even trade — zero dollars exchanged — including a few additional (entirely utilitarian) dealer add-on accessories. No clear coat though.

We went with Inver Grove Honda and were extremely happy with the whole process… and we got our deal! Our new red 2009 Fit will be arriving in a couple weeks.

Now, about that new car…

Honda FitIn my previous post (written an hour or so ago) I mentioned car dealerships calling me.

That’s because, as I prepare to start a new job in the suburbs, I find I must, with regret, say goodbye to light rail transit and return to the world of commuting by car. Since we presently have only one car (the 2000 Civic I bought the last time I started a new job in the suburbs), and with the added scheduling complexity of life with kids, it’s time to get another one.

Thinking “family,” we had been eyeing the Subaru Forester for quite some time. It has lots of room to haul kids and their attendant necessities, and it’s not a minivan or monstrous SUV, which we’ve tried to avoid. But then we took a really close look at one for the first time and fell out of love. The salesman mentioning, almost in his first breath, the “significant depreciation” they suffer the moment you drive them off the lot didn’t really help either. So we kept it in mind but decided to take a drive through the lot of a nearby Honda dealership.

We’ve owned a total of four cars in our dozen-ish years of marriage, and they’ve all been Hondas. So with Honda, we know what we’re getting, and we like it. But we don’t want another Civic, and we don’t really want an Accord. We considered the Element and the CR-V, but then we saw…

The Fit.

The Fit is it! (The only thing I don’t like is “The Fit is go!” But I expect slogans to be stupid.) So unbelievably small (looking) on the outside, but get inside and it’s like the tents at the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (OK, maybe I shouldn’t admit how easily that reference comes to mind.) It is truly a marvel of design. There’s just about as much passenger and cargo space in it as in the Forester, but it is small and low and unobtrusive (which is how we like it, contrary to many Americans these days, it would seem). And it gets an extra 10 miles per gallon. Besides, it just looks cooler. I mean, come on. You can take a picture of the Forester in every picturesque city on the Adriatic that you want, that doesn’t make it look any better. (Even if that seaside village seems to be straight out of Project Gotham Racing 2. Am I right?)

So, the search is on. I’ve talked to a few dealerships in the area. Soon the test drives and the purchase and the financing and the payments. And the driving!

Ah crap, I wanted to surprise my parents with it though, like they always do to us when they get a new car. Dad, stop reading this! Too late.

The Monty Hall Problem

This is an old story, but a coworker and I were just discussing “The Monty Hall Problem,” which comes down to the common scenario from the old game show “Let’s Make a Deal”: If you have three doors, with a car behind one of them, and dud prizes behind the other two, once you’ve made your selection and the host reveals a dud prize behind one of the other doors, does it make sense for you to switch doors or stick with the one you’ve picked?

The simple intuitive answer is that it makes no difference, now that there’s a 50/50 shot at opening the right door. But it seems that 2/3 of the time it’s better to switch! We pondered this for a while and I guessed that it may have something to do with the fact that the host knows which door the car is really behind.

Apparently that’s correct. (Since this link points to an ancient [in Internet time] web page that may or may not endure, although it’s made it this long, I’ll provide a summary here.)

Let’s Make a Deal Roulette Wheel

This roulette wheel is the key. The inner circle is the door the car is behind, the middle circle is the door the contestant picks, and the outer circle is the door(s) Monty Hall can open after the contestant picks. The red spaces indicate that the contestant should switch, and the blue that they should not. 2/3 of the time it’s better to switch, because Monty Hall has basically been forced to reveal that the car is behind the door the contestant did not pick.

In other words, the contestant picks the right door the first time 1/3 of the time. This is pretty straightforward. That means that 2/3 of the time they did not pick the right door the first time, also straightforward. Therefore, since 2/3 of the time the car is not behind the door they picked, and Monty Hall will never open the door the car is behind, then 2/3 of the time the car is behind the door that neither the contestant nor Monty Hall picked, so the contestant doubles their chance of winning by switching.

I’m “The Dude”

I had a real life Big Lebowski moment today.

I was driving the kids to Como Zoo. We had just pulled into the right-turn lane from Snelling onto Midway, when some (pardon) asshole in a car next to us threw a lit cigarette butt through my window. It hit me right in the head!

I had to pull over quickly and locate the butt, since it was still smoldering. It had fallen down into the plastic well on the floor between my door and seat. There were unburned shreds of tobacco on my shirt and shorts, and the car still smelled of cigarette smoke when we returned from the zoo two hours later!

The fury I was feeling at that moment was quickly offset by my overwhelming sense of pride over the astounding parallel parking job I did when we got to the park. As usual on summer weekends, especially when the weather is nearly ideal, as it was today, parking spaces were scarce in Como Park. I managed to locate a very tight space, most certainly available simply because no one was brave enough to attempt to sqeeze in.

Now I am no great parallel parker. In fact, when I took my driving test at age 16 I got perfect scores on everything except the parallel park and hill park, both of which I failed completely (that is, zero points). Luckily it all came out in the wash and I still got my license without having to retake the test. Here we are 16 years later, and even now I get nervous when the need arises to parallel park. Fortunately, several years of living and driving in large cities have forced me to improve my skills… somewhat.

I went for it. And I made it. Sure I bumped the truck behind me a few times, but that’s what bumpers are for! In the end I was nestled tightly with about 4 inches of space on either side. I had to climb across my hood to get over to the passenger side of the car, before I realized that next time it would be easier to just go around the truck parked behind me.

I was so impressed with myself, I had to take a picture.

Parallel parking gets pwned!

Fortunately, by the time we left, both vehicles surrounding us were already gone, and their replacements gave us plenty of maneuvering room.

Addendum (July 10, 2006) — I’ve been thinking about this more, and I believe I have my Big Lebowski reference wrong in a number of key ways. First off, I knew from the beginning that a few points were different: I wasn’t holding a roach clip in one hand and a beer in the other, and I didn’t crash my car while trying to retrieve the flaming butt from my crotch. (Boy, that sounds worse than it is.) But now that I think about it, I don’t recall whether the aforementioned “flaming butt” was thrown in his window by a passing vehicle, or whether it was his own, and he was just a poor shot. I’ll have to watch the DVD again to refresh my memory.

Dispatch from the Daily Commute

A few days ago I was reading the introductory chapters of a book on the core philosophy of Buddhism (if you care, it’s called Buddhism: Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen). I was intrigued by the importance Buddhism places on living in the present moment, being fully aware of your situation at all times as it is, rather than as you want it to be, as the key to “awakening.”

This morning, as I crawled along I-285 on the morning commute, I figured it was as good a time as any to try “awakening” myself.

I have had a few, rare moments of true enlightenment in my life. It hits you like a lightning bolt, and for a brief moment you see things in a new way, feel a greater perception than that of yourself and your finite existence. This morning definitely did not feel like one of those times. But I made some interesting observations nonetheless.

My first observation was a pair of bumper stickers on a Toyota Corolla. Thanks to the Superman vision I get from my new glasses, I was able to make both of them out. One said, “My kid and my money go to Duke.” The other, “I live in this car so my kid can go to school.” Great message. It’s nice that you care enough about your kid to support them in their pursuit of advanced education at a prestigious school like Duke, but I do detect a hint of resentment there, eh?

Next up, the car dancer. You know how it works: You spot a car ahead of you that seems… well… not to be pursuing the enlightenment that comes from a full awareness of the present moment. The car lags behind the flow and then surges ahead, weaves side-to-side, and shakes strangely. As you get closer, you learn why: The driver of the car is reliving the excitement of a weekend spent “clubbing,” with music blasting, head shaking, hands everywhere but where they should be… on the wheel. As long as this person manages to keep a few neurons focused on the road ahead, everyone is safe and witnessing the ecstasy can be amusing rather than life-threatening. Fortunately, today that was the case.

At this point, the traffic started to snarl, and I found myself spending the majority of the remaining, excruciating crawl to the office staring at the back of a Lincoln Blackwood. Now this is something someone has to explain to me. I hate to sound like a stale Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bit, but what’s the deal with these new luxury SUV-truck hybrids?

Luxury SUVs are a strange enough concept as it is. I don’t expect to see too many Lincoln Navigators really navigating anything other than Peachtree Street. At least back in Minnesota it makes sense to have 4-wheel drive in an urban environment. In Atlanta, where we get one feeble snowstorm a decade, seriously, what is the point?

Concurrent with the development of the luxury SUV came the SUV-truck hybrid. You know, the Ford Explorer Sport Trac (where’s the “k”?), the Chevy Avalanche, etc. It’s the El Camino of the 21st century. But then, the worst… the luxury SUV-truck hybrid. It started with the Cadillac Escalade EXT. Basically, take a Chevy Avalanche, lose the cheap, charcoal-gray molded polycarbonate trim, add some of the characteristic chiseled edges that are the hallmark of Cadillac’s “innovative” new designs, throw on some faux gold trim, and you have it!

The Lincoln Blackwood is an even greater mystery. It looks more like a truck than the Escalade EXT, but that begs the question, why on Earth would you want a luxury pickup truck? Isn’t that a complete contradiction? Pickup trucks are inherently utilitarian vehicles, but how much utility can you really get out of them if you’re afraid of dings or paint chipping? I stared at the back of that Blackwood for several minutes, pondering this question and wondering how it could lead to enlightenment.

And then, it hit me. As we rounded the curve approaching “Spaghetti Junction,” direct sunlight struck the back of the truck for the first time, and I finally noticed that the sides of the truck really are black wood, or at least an elaborate woodgrain veneer.

At this sight, I understood the full nature of the situation, and at last achieved some small semblance of enlightenment.

I was expecting there to be a logical reason for the things I was observing. That was my folly! Thousands of people cramming onto the arteries of a city at once, morning and night, racing to-and-fro, accumulating “stuff,” basing their value as human beings on their ability to spend money on useless “utility” vehicles, working a job they loathe all week just for the next opportunity to hit the nightclubs on Saturday night (sounds a bit like Tony Manero), or sending their kids to an expensive university, apparently just so they can complain about it to complete strangers. As SLP posits in her dissertation prospectus, why bother?

Of course, these are things I knew already, things I had already pondered in the course of my life. But it’s easy to get swept up in that parade of the mundane, the minutiae of daily life, or to chase hollow symbols of “status” and “success,” and never really live.

At least, that’s what I’ll say until I get enough Benjamins to indulge in a bit of the bling-bling myself.